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Lovely War

Review

Lovely War

As war rages, as the guns rumble and the submarines slip through the shadows, as families wait for parents and children to come home, Love and War --- Venus and Aphrodite --- find each other in a glamourous Parisian hotel, seemingly secluded from the storm brewing below. When their liaison attracts the attention of Venus’ jealous husband, however, they find themselves the subjects of a trial, all the evidence against them. Yet just as love always seems to find a way, so too does Venus find herself with a defense --- a story of her finest work. A musician, a singer; a soldier, a pianist, all of whom will laugh, live, love and lose before their tale concludes, all of whom find themselves remade in the face of the first World War. Three witnesses: two couples, one goddess at the heart of it all. Is the story of James, Hazel, Aubrey and Collette enough to vindicate the goddess of love? And when she rests her case, where will they find themselves?

"LOVELY WAR is the ambitious --- and successful --- culmination of multiple eras, storylines and characters, and a true testament to Julie Berry’s historical knowledge, creativity and writing skill."

Julie Berry’s LOVELY WAR remakes the classic story of wartime romance in a bold, beautiful and challenging way. The idea of entwining classical mythology in any story is not only uniquely original, but also incredibly daunting. However, Berry manages to make the inclusion natural and accessible to readers who may not have much knowledge of classical stories, even as she writes in an era, World War I, that is, in itself, difficult to capture in a novel. The success of this layered story depends on clear, yet flowing transitions in and out of the two different stories, which Berry achieves with strategic placement of shifts in the story as well as small reminders of the presence of the narrators, reminding readers of the overarching context of the romance.

Berry strengthens her story with a strong narrative writing style and compelling characterization. The novel’s descriptions ring with emotion and a touch of mysticism, elevating the story and its inclusion of classical mythology to a sophisticated level. Where the writing struggles, however, is in dialogue. Compared to paragraphs of description, the characters’ speech, particularly that of the gods and goddesses, seems too casual, stripping away some of the glamour that Berry aims to create with her narrative style.

In terms of characters, Berry’s two romance stories succeed because they depict relationships that don’t simply exist within the time period, but rather ones that find themselves shaped by the distinct nature of the times and the effects of war. In particular, Hazel and James’ story captures the desperate love of wartime effectively, highlighting the need for connection even when the risks of getting attached seem tragically high. On the larger level of the story, while many depictions of mythical characters emphasize their callous and unaffected nature, Berry opposes this portrayal with a clear depiction of the emotional investment of the gods and goddesses in the story.

As unique as it already is, LOVELY WAR also provides a story that sheds light on topics not always considered in wartime fiction, including racism, the role of music and entertainment, women volunteers and civilian impacts of war. Berry clearly roots her scenes in well-researched historical details, and challenges simplified portrayals of wartime experience with a wide-reaching narrative that exposes some of the often overlooked corners of history.  

One of the only weaknesses of Berry’s novel is the format, at times. The chapters toe the line between suspenseful and too short: with so many characters, this is almost unavoidable, and Berry struggles to find a balance in certain scenes. Additionally, the story seems to build toward a climax that never fully arrives, and may leave readers expecting more, while the resolution of the story feels rushed, as compared to the pace of the rest of the novel, trying to cover a span of time that lessens the emotional impact of the conclusion.

Regardless of its occasional weaknesses, LOVELY WAR is the ambitious --- and successful --- culmination of multiple eras, storylines and characters, and a true testament to Julie Berry’s historical knowledge, creativity and writing skill. For readers who enjoy historical fiction, a beautiful romance story, or classical mythology, Berry spins a story of her own finest work --- one that will be sure to leave readers with only one verdict --- LOVELY WAR is a story for the ages.

Reviewed by Rachel R., Teen Board Member on March 19, 2019

Lovely War
by Julie Berry